Special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen died in London today at 92 years-old. Born in Los Angeles in 1920, Harryhausen was the creator of the "Dynamation" style of stop-motion animation which allowed models to appear to interact with actors on the screen.
But there is so much more to say about him.
Though I've never met the man, Ray (can I call him Ray?) was a big part of my life. After being inspired by the stop-motion animation in movies such as 1933's King Kong, he went on to improve those effects in fantasy epics like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
In those, he gave audiences thrilling battles between a hero and a stop-motion skeleton, then later, an entire army of skeletons. Those energized me, but it was 1981's Clash of the Titans, the last film to feature his effects work, that terrified me.
Calibos and the Stygian Witches completely freaked me out, but Medusa found her way into my nightmares. I will never forget that rattling, serpentine creature emerging from the shadows, with those eyes. I was frightened enough that I was certain her gaze would turn me to stone along with Perseus. As for the Kraken? For some reason, I always loved that guy (and his alien cousin, the Venusian Ymir from Ray's 20 Million Miles to Earth).
I never did get a Kraken toy, though. But I still have the shield from my Perseus action figure, as well as a broken wing from the Pegasus toy (that flying horse never had a chance in my house; those wings popped off days after I opened the package). As a silly side note, when Harry Hamlin popped up on Mad Men last week, I immediately shouted, "It's Perseus!"
But I digress. Clash played a key role in my movie (and Greek myth, mashed-up though it was in the movie) education. It excited me enough to take a look back at Ray's other work, and at what inspired him as a kid. Plus, it is important to note that it was released a year after The Empire Strikes Back. So while demand for Ray's brand of effects waned, he managed to kick ass and craft a commercial success after George Lucas changed the game.
Still, without Ray, the careers of Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton and so on would look a lot different.
And though I cannot even classify myself in the same league as the names above, my career would also look a lot different without the adventures and nightmares he gave me. Ray joins his buddies Uncle Forry and Ray Bradbury in that sci-fi and fantasy pantheon in the sky.